When we as women choose to breastfeed it is a choice driven by numerous factors. Of course, many of us do so for the reason that it offers optimal nutrition for our babies. For some, however, reasons can include doing so because we feel we have to, or should. Some women find their birth experience to be traumatic or disappointing and use breastfeeding as a means to regain confidence in their body's ability to perform maternal tasks. Many women struggle with breastfeeding, and therefore become determined to see it through. The motivations are varied and personal. Some of us go into breastfeeding with a set goal - "I want to breastfeed for the recommended two years". Or "I will breastfeed until I have to return to work". Although, many women don't have a clear idea of how long they want to or will breastfeed.
I often get questions as an infant is approaching 12 months, as to when or how to wean the baby. It becomes confusing terrain. Up until the past couple of years, it was understood that we were to wean babies off the breast, or bottle, at one year. And, even though the WHO has formally changed the recommendation to " ...two years and beyond...", women are still getting mixed messages. Society tells us that nursing your baby beyond one year is for us, not the child. Implying that it's a purely indulgent act beyond one year, and inducing doubt and guilt into the minds of many mothers. I get as many questions about weaning, as I do about latch! Below we will discuss three key points to consider in regards to weaning.
1. The TRUE Normal
Did you know that the worldwide average weaning age is three? Three! The official recommendation, per the WHO, and UNICEF are that babies be exclusively breastfed (ingesting nothing except mother's milk) until six months of age. At the six-month mark, it's best to add complementary foods (whatever the family is eating) and to continue nursing for two years or beyond as decided by the mother. The recommendation is made based on the nutritional needs and development of the child.
2. Mother-Baby Relationship
How is breastfeeding affecting your relationship with your baby? I pride myself on being a balanced professional. Science tells us that breastfeeding provides the best food source for our infants up through six months. However, science also says that a mother's happiness is vital to the emotional and social development of her children. Furthermore, having a nurturing mother is also ranked very high in regards to raising well-balanced kids. It's my professional opinion that great care is made to ensure that a mother can happily nurture her child - whatever that looks like for her. If breastfeeding is interfering with a mother's overall life satisfaction or ability to bond with her baby, then it's fair to say that weaning would be appropriate. The opposite is also true. If mom and baby are genuinely enjoying their breastfeeding relationship at age three, then by all means continue the relationship.
3. Health & Safety First
If and when you do decide to wean understand that there are a couple of health concerns to watch. A gradual wean is ideal, both, for your body and toddler's emotional adjustment. Albeit sometimes it's not possible, or other factors (such as toddler's personality) prevent it. Weaning cold turkey is hard for the mother's body - hormonally and physically. For example, if weaning a young infant the drastic hormonal changes can exacerbate postpartum mood disorders. Whereas a mother with a well-established milk supply can experience plugged ducts, and possible infection if she has not been mindful of relieving ducts and inflammation. Your baby or toddler will need extra care during this time as well. It's incredibly important to ensure that they experience extra emotional and physical affection to minimize the feeling of being rejected by Mom.
As with all things parenthood, there is no black and white solution or method for weaning. These key points will help you sort out whether or not weaning is right for you and your toddler/baby. For additional guidance and support, please reach out to a Certified Lactation Professional, such as myself. Let us guide you on the technical stuff, so you can focus on creating new positive ways to bond with your little one.
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